The NBA returns to action with six games on Thursday after a week off for the All-Star break.
This year’s rest period was one of the most cumulatively entertaining in recent memory -- dunk contest for the books, entertaining 3-pt contest, competitive All-Star game -- but let’s admit it, we’re all ready to watch real games again.
The Wizards don’t resume their season until Friday, but a soft schedule this week will give them a chance to pick up where they left off before the break. On the national stage, there are other big games to have on your radar. Here’s what we’re looking forward to this week.
Standings: 9th in Eastern Conference (3.0 GB Orlando Magic)
Friday vs. Cavaliers (14-40), 7 ET on NBC Sports Washington
Sunday at Bulls (19-36), 7 ET on NBC Sports Washington
The Wizards entered the All-Star break as one of the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams, winning six of their last 10 games and five of the last seven. Currently riding a two-game win streak, the Wizards return to the hardwood against a Cleveland Cavaliers team in its first game since parting with head coach John Beilein.
There may be questions about whether the break was bad for the Wizards' momentum, but that shouldn’t hold as a legitimate excuse if they lose this game. Cleveland has the worst record in the East and second-worst in the entire NBA. And even though the Cavs defeated the Wizards by 13 on Nov. 8, the Wizards kicked off their current 10-game run with a win over the Cavs. These teams are trending in separate directions, and the Wizards should be able to continue their push into the playoff picture. Bradley Beal, who is in the midst of a career-high streak of 12 straight games of at least 25 points, scored 36 in the Jan. 23 win over Cleveland.
The Wizards finish the week on Sunday against a Bulls team they also beat during their current hot streak. It was Washington's second-to-last game before the break, in fact. Washington was 0-2 this season against Chicago before a 12-point victory on Feb. 11. This won’t be an easy game for the Wizards, though, as their previous two losses to the Bulls indicate. Chicago is 10th in the standings -- two games behind the Wizards -- and will be desperate to make up ground. Zach LaVine has averaged over 30 points against the Wizards this season, including a season-high 41 in the loss. The Wizards will need to contain him to have a shot at evening the season series.
Thursday: Nets at 76ers, 8 p.m. on TNT
The Brooklyn Nets are also one of the league’s hottest teams, going 7-3 in their last 10, including 4-1 since losing Kyrie Irving to a knee injury in a loss to the Wizards. Irving’s knee is feeling better but now a shoulder injury that kept him out earlier in the season is bothering him again, and he’ll be missing more time. We’ll get a chance to see if the Nets can continue winning without Irving on Thursday when they take on the 76ers in Philadelphia. This game also gives us a chance to see if the inconsistent 76ers can build on the three-game winning streak they took into the All-Star break.
Friday: Pelicans at Trail Blazers, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN
Rookie Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Portland to face Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Though he cooled off slightly just before the break, Lillard has been one of the hottest players in basketball since the new year. Like the Wizards, the Trail Blazers are in 9th place in their conference, and not only are they trying to make up ground on the eighth-place Grizzlies, they’re also trying to hold off a slew of teams behind them including the Pelicans (1.5 GB). Williamson is also in the middle of an awesome stretch, averaging 22 points in his first 10 career games before going into the All-Star break. He notched over 30 in each of his last two contests.
Saturday: 76ers at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. on ABC
The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the NBA at 46-8 and not many teams have been able to figure them out, but the 76ers are one of the eight teams that have. Milwaukee hasn’t lost consecutive games all season or to the same team more than once, however, so expect it to come out with some fire after losing to the Pacers just before the break. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is expected to return after missing the last two games following the birth of his first child. As previously mentioned, the 76ers are seemingly on the right track again but their last loss before the current winning streak was to the Bucks, when Greek Freak put up 36 points and 20 rebounds. When Philly beat Milwaukee in December, Antetokounmpo was limited to just 18 points and everyone in Philadelphia's starting five scored in double figures, led by Joel Embiid’s 31.
Sunday: Celtics at Lakers, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
The Boston Celtics have just two losses in their last 13 games, starting an impressive run of W's by drubbing the Lakers by 32 on Jan. 20. That win happened to be Kemba Walker’s first in his career against LeBron James in 29 tries. It also apparently provided the spark Boston needed to reach its full potential. James and Anthony Davis were held to a combined 24 points while three Celtics scored at least 20 points. You have to think the Lakers had this rivalry game circled on their calendar since that loss, as this could be their final chance to avenge their worst loss of the season -- unless, of course, these teams meet in the NBA Finals.
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